The Affordable Connectivity Program may have a temporary lifeline.
U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, which would inject $7 billion into the government program designed to help make reliable broadband affordable for more than 20 million Americans.
The proposed bipartisan legislation comes as the ACP’s funding is due to run out this April. With no cash influx secured for the future, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency expects to start “orderly wind-down procedures” to give participating households and providers enough time prepare of the impending end of the program.
The ACP currently provides a $30 monthly discount towards internet service for eligible, low-income households and a $75 monthly discount to households on qualifying tribal lands. The program also offers a one-time discount of up to $100 towards a computer, laptop or tablet purchase.
If the program shuts down, those enrolled will no longer receive the discounts. This means paying full price for the internet or losing access completely. Not having internet access can cripple a household. In today’s digital world, dozens of aspects of daily life require connectivity.
“Access to high-speed internet isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity. That’s why it’s never been so important to avoid this funding cliff and extend the ACP,” Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont, one of bill’s leaders, said in a statement.
Welch, Sens. J.D. Vance (Ohio), Jacky Rosen (Nevada), and Kevin Cramer (North Dakota) are leading The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act’s introduction in the Senate while Reps. Yvette D. Clarke (New York) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania) take the House.
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Michael Lawler (New York), Norma Torres (California), Anthony D’Esposito (New York), Debbie Dingell (Michigan), Darren Soto (Florida), and Marc Molinaro (New York). The extension also received support from more than 400 organizations including Comcast, Cox Communications, T-Mobile, USTelecom, Verizon, and more.
Rosenworcel lauded the move by Congress.
“I am heartened to see bipartisan Congressional efforts to fund the ACP led by Senators Welch and Vance and Representatives Clarke and Fitzpatrick,” she said in a statement. “I remain hopeful that this program will continue to be funded.”
Prior to the proposed funding legislation, the Biden Administration asked Congress for $6 billion to keep the ACP running through the end of December 2024, but the funding would be part of a larger proposed emergency aid package in support of Ukraine, Israel and border security that’s facing bipartisan disagreements.
What happens if the extension legislation doesn’t pass?
If the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act isn’t adopted, the ACP will run out of funding in April and shut down.
It’s unclear whether the FCC will continue its wind-down procedures, but Rosenworcel has detailed the Commission’s next steps if funding isn’t secured.
The FCC will offer ACP providers guidance on timing and requirements to notify enrolled households about the program’s likely end, according to the letter. In addition, providers must give “specific and frequent” notices to households receiving the discount “to avoid consumer confusion and minimize the risk of a consumer bill shock.”
Next, the Commission said it would stop accepting new sign-ups for ACP enrollment starting on February 7. According to Rosenworcel, the cut-off date is also meant to “slow the depletion of remaining funds” and “stabilize the number of households affected by the end of the ACP.”
“Ending ACP enrollments will also mean that the more than 240 outreach grant awardees across the country will need to wind down their grant-funded ACP outreach,” Rosenworcel said.
In addition, the FCC will determine a projected end date for the program and provide the necessary information to enrolled households.
“[T]he ACP is in jeopardy and, absent additional funding, we could lose the significant progress this program has made towards closing the digital divide. Yet we have come too far with the ACP to turn back. Accordingly, the Commission stands ready to assist Congress with any efforts to fully fund the ACP into the future,” Rosenworcel said earlier this week.